From game to game, let alone quarter to quarter, the Ravens offense continues to lack the dependability that was a hallmark last season.
Big plays, a solid running game and strong quarterback performance combined to help Baltimore win its second Super Bowl.
This season, the Ravens are still searching. They enter Sunday’s game against Green Bay ranked 21st in total offense (330.8 yards per game) and 14th in scoring (23.4 points per contest). Baltimore hasn’t racked up more than the 393 yards it had in the opener, twice finishing with less than 300 yards. The Ravens have been semi-consistent scoring-wise with at least 20 points in all but one contest.
The reasons for the slip from 2012 are plentiful. The ground attack is still seeking its form. Injuries to several receivers, including Jacoby Jones, and general struggles have kept the team from finding suitable options to replace the traded Anquan Boldin and injured Dennis Pitta. The offensive line hasn’t been up to snuff with regularity. And with eight interceptions through five games, quarterback Joe Flacco is on pace for a career worst in that category.
Flacco wants and expects more consistency out of the offense.
“We always look forward to doing that. That’s what our goal is,” he said. “We haven’t been necessarily consistent enough, and we haven’t been good enough in a lot of areas, but we’ve been dealing with a lot. We’re working hard, and we’re getting better and better each week. Even if it doesn’t show up consistently on Sundays that we’ve gotten better each week, we are. And we’re going to get healthier. I think a lot of things are going to come together at one time. We’re really working to get better and better and better, and eventually it’s going to show.
“We put a lot of work in around here. We practice well every week, and there’s no way you can go out there and do that week-in and week-out and not have it eventually show up on the field. I think we are starting to see guys get back on the field, and all the guys we needed to get reps while those guys were out are starting to become really comfortable. And I think it’s going to help us out in the long run that we’ve had to lean on some guys that we didn’t anticipate leaning on, because now they have some experience, and they have some confidence in themselves.”
Flacco could get some help there in terms of receiving options. Last week, the Ravens won with just three healthy wideouts. This week, they could have the opposite problem with Jones, Marlon Brown and Brandon Stokley all possibly available, potentially leaving some interesting roster choices.
All three missed last week’s game. Stokley was released last Saturday, but would have likely joined Jones and Brown as inactive because of a groin injury. Stokley re-signed with the team this week.
Speaking of personnel, the Ravens also will likely see their new-look offensive line at work, as Eugene Monroe is expected to start at left tackle for the first time since being acquired from the Jaguars. His size and athleticism should make a significant difference for the Ravens’ struggling front.
The win over the Dolphins marked a step in the right direction for Baltimore, especially for the running game. The Ravens ran for a season-high 133 yards after entering the contest averaging just 64.0 yards per contest.
That effort elevated the team to 27th in the league in rushing offense. With one mild breakout in the rear view, tailback Ray Rice is hopeful the team can take it to the next level soon.
“I think we’re right there,” Rice said. “It’s not an effort thing, now that we’re running our right tracks. It’s not an effort thing. It’s just also getting on the guy and finishing him. Obviously, there’s a fine line between that without getting a holding call and doing all that stuff, but we’re right there. We’re right there. The yards per carry went up last week, and we’re looking forward to keep building. There’s no need for us to go backward now, and that’s going to be huge for us going into this week, especially playing at home.”
It might be difficult to accomplish that in their only home game during a six-week stretch, as it comes against the Packers, who own the fifth-best rush defense in the league, allowing just 86.0 yards on the ground per game.
But Green Bay will be without its offensive centerpiece, linebacker Clay Matthews, who will be missing his first contest since breaking his thumb.
“It’s huge. It’s huge,” Rice said. “He’s a game-wrecker with the kind of guy that he is. But look at the whole defense; they’re all stout, they’re all big guys in the middle, a lot like our defense. They’re big, strong guys, and you get that kind of guy coming off the edge, it reminds you of our guy, No. 55 (Terrell Suggs) over here. So not having him in the lineup is huge, because not that our tackles don’t have to worry about that, but he’s a game-wrecker. He can literally wreck a game. He’s a guy that you have to point him out at all times.”
Coach John Harbaugh doesn’t anticipate the Packers changing too much sans Matthews, who had two forced fumbles and three sacks in the first four games.
“Structurally, they should be the same. They’ll be the same defense,” Harbaugh said. “They’ll put a very good player over there. He’s a young guy. He’s a physical rusher off the edge. I’m sure he patterns himself a little bit after what Clay does. But they’re just a good defense. They’ll run the same structure.
“They’ve got a great coordinator. He’ll have a game plan that will be geared to what we do. It’ll just be a different player there. Of course, you can’t replace a Clay Matthews, but they’ve got a lot of good players.”
Although the Packers are just 2-2 to this point, they remain one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league, ranking third in yards (453.3 per game) and points (29.3 per game).
That could put some extra pressure on the Ravens offense to try to keep up.
“Our job is - no matter where we get it, no matter how we get it - to score points,” Caldwell said. “Our goal and intention is to take that ball and put it in the end zone every single time that we touch it. That doesn’t change, no matter who we are playing. I think our guys take on that challenge, and obviously, it’s going to be a great challenge for us this week.
“Certainly, we’re aware of the great offense they have. It’s a prolific scoring offense that certainly ranks very, very high in the league. Our job is to score every time we get it, so we try to keep it that way.”